Rosewood Heritage Project Data Warehouse -1908-1923 Cedar Key Weather Data
How cold is it? Is it raining? Will it be sunny today? Questions like these have surely been asked by humans since the dawn of time. Weather certainly plays an important role in human society. As such, scholars are increasingly looking at the ways weather affected the past (see Durschmied’s The Weather Factor and Fagan’s The Little Ice Age for recent examples).
The 1923 riot which destroyed Rosewood was actually a week-long series of events beginning on Monday January 1st and concluding with the complete destruction of all black-owned buildings on Saturday January 6th. Many of the survivors were forced to spend at least one night hiding in the cold swamps while thier homes were destroyed. Decades later several of these survivors related how that winter was one of the coldest they could remember. Was it? Daily weather observations from nearby Cedar Key warehoused by the National Climatic Data Center provide the answer.
Actually, the winter of 1923 was the warmest between 1918 and 1923. What does this mean? Used unsympathetically, such data simply contradicts the experiences of the African Americans who hid in the swamps. A sensitive use demonstrates how trauma and violence affect our memory of events. Frightful experiences become more severe, if a night is cold, it feels colder.
Weather observations can explain other aspects of the riot as well. While the violence of 1923 began with the murder of Sam Carter on Monday January 1st, hostilities did not resume until Thursday. Why? Previous studies cannot provide an answer. Daily weather observations document 1.5 inches of rainfall on Wednesday January 3rd. Does this explain why violence ceased for two days? 1.5 inches of rain would have turned the dirt roads leading in and out of Rosewood to mud, and made travel difficult.
Is it hard to imagine the effects of this downpour? The whites who attacked Sam Carter would have spent at least one full day indoors, growing more angry of their ‘failure’ to apprehend the black man they (wrongly) believed had attacked a white woman in nearby Sumner on Monday. When violence resumed on Thursday, had the rain amplified their fury? Did it increase their rage? What part did it play in the escalated attacks, culminating in the burning of an entire African American town two days later?
Unfortunately, such questions may never be answered. As is often the case with historical research, data often raises more questions than it answers.
Want to look at the weather observations yourself? Fifteen years in one file: